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Pa. inventor wins big case

January 31, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A federal judge in Chicago last week awarded a Waynesboro electrical engineer $13.2 million in a patent infringement case against Square D company, his lawyer said Monday.

Frank Calabrese, 58, of Old Mill Road, said he feels "vindicated" by the verdict.

The jury deliberated for three hours following a five-day trial before finding for Calabrese. The case involved his invention of a data-relay system for transferring and acquiring data in complex manufacturing processes.

Calabrese was issued a patent for the device in 1982, but its value wasn't realized until the early 1990s. "It was an invention that was ahead of its time," he said.

He filed the suit in 1995 after his patent attorney read in the Patent Gazette, a quarterly publication of the U.S. Patent Office listing all patents it issues, that another company had obtained a patent on his invention.

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That company was later bought by Square D, Calabrese said. Square D, which makes electrical distribution and control devices, is a division of Groupe Schneider of France, a conglomerate with annual sales of more than $7 billion, according to Calabrese's Chicago attorney, Raymond P. Niro.

Niro said the company has been using Calabrese's invention since 1995. "Square D's excuses for not paying Frank Calabrese a royalty have been a moving target over the years and even during the trial. Thankfully the jury saw right through it," he said.

Robert Fiorani, vice president of communications for Square D, did not return phone calls Monday.

Niro said the fact the jury found the infringement "willful and deliberate" makes Square D liable for up to three times the $13.2 million award. He said he will seek that amount plus another $5 million in prejugdment interest, potentially bringing the award to more than $40 million.

The lawyers' fees in the contingency case will come to about 40 percent, Calabrese said.

It could be a while before Calabrese sees any money, Niro said.

Square D could offer to settle for considerably less than the amount awarded by the judge, Niro said, adding he expects the company to appeal the verdict. If the appeals court affirms the verdict, Calabrese would get paid, but the appeal could take 18 months or more, he said.

Niro said he doesn't expect Square D to offer a settlement since the company has insisted all along it has done nothing wrong.

Calabrese's wife, Kathy, said her husband's lawyers had planned to fly the couple to Chicago in a private plane for the trial, but Calabrese, who is in poor health, was too weak to travel. His testimony was videotaped for the jury.

The couple's son, David Calabrese, attended the trial in his father's place. "He was very jubilant when he called to say the jury found in Frank's Favor. I'm just happy for Frank," Kathy Calabrese said.

Calabrese holds patents on eight inventions, including the data-relay system plus two infrared guidance systems and four infrared pet restraints. He has never manufactured or marketed any of his inventions. "It's just too costly," he said.

He worked for several companies before starting his own consulting business in the basement of his home in the late 1980s.

"It was wonderful of Frank to have the courage to stand up to these people. It's a giant company," Niro said. "It's a classic problem for inventors. Most die broke or have someone else run away with their invention."

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